In the Blink of an Eye (Super typhoon “Haiyan”/”Yolanda” in the Philippines, Leyte & Samar provinces, 08 November 2013, Friday, 4.40am)

The whole world has been glued to CNN as it reports the cataclysmic destruction of super typhoon “Haiyan”/”Yolanda” in the Philippines.  “Haiyan”/”Yolanda” had very strong winds that gusted up to 235 mph or 380 kph (according to the JTWC in Honolulu, the US Navy’s warning center).  Hardest hit were the provinces of Leyte and Samar in the Eastern Visayas, where the super typhoon made its initial landfalls.  The overwhelming devastation is unprecedented and beyond belief.  By simply observing the sheer destruction of the coastal cities and towns of Leyte and Samar, journalists are estimating that thousands of people have been killed.

Metropolitan Manila, some 800 hundred kilometers northwest of Leyte and Samar provinces, was fortunately spared the wrath of “Haiyan”/”Yolanda.”  But had the super typhoon passed the capital, it is most likely that the Philippines would have ground to a complete halt.  It would have destroyed the metropolis the way it did Tacloban city in Leyte.

As the news came slowly of the terrible destruction in Leyte and Samar provinces, all over the country typically kindhearted Filipinos started setting aside rice, canned goods, clothes, medicines, etc for the victims of the latest disaster.  From Northern Luzon to Southern Mindanao, Filipinos set aside little somethings (sometimes big somethings) and brought them to collection centers for relief goods.  In public markets, small groceries, big supermarkets, and even high-end food stores, customers bought extra supplies for the super typhoon “Yolanda” victims.  The same thing happened in drug stores and medical supplies stores.  The great collective charity of the Filipino people was/is truly amazing.

And then the countries of the world extended their generous helping hands to the beleaguered Philippines.  The USA United States of America, Canada, the UK United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, The Vatican, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Hungary, Russia, PROC China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Fiji, India, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE United Arab Emirates, et al .  The incredible outpouring of sincere and generous assistance was largely unexpected and the Filipino nation is grateful, very grateful, for all the expert help extended in this terrible hour of great need.  Humanity at its best.

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Jenny’s Grill (“Sizzling Sisig”)

As the super typhoon “Yolanda” whirled horrifically towards the Philippines, the Senate tried frantically to extricate itself from the Pork Barrel scam, which has infuriated the nation, and from its purported super mastermind Janet “Jenny” Lim-Napoles, who in turn frantically tried to evade all attempts for her to cook, nay sizzle, in her own oil…

Expectedly, the most amusing part of the interrogation was with the sarcastic, feisty, oftentimes delightfully outrageous Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

All throughout, it was a frustrating, discombobulating, exasperating, and ever-evasive litany of “Hindi po.”  (“No, sir/ma’am.”)  “Hindi ko po alam.” (“I don’t know, sir/ma’am.”)  “Matagal na po iyon.”  (“That was a long time ago, sir/ma’am.”)  “Hindi ko na po matandaan.”  (“I can no longer remember, sir/ma’am.”)  “I invoke my right against self-incrimination.”  “Attorney-Client privilege.”

The exchange between Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Janet Lim-Napoles rapidly and rabidly became an indictment of Senator Juan Ponce-Enrile.  In a series of totally fearless ballistic statements, Senator Santiago strongly implied that Senator (Johnny) Ponce-Enrile aka “Tanda” was the root of the PDAF scam and joined, probably inspired and copied, by Senator (Jinggoy) Estrada aka “Sexy” and Senator (Bong) Revilla aka “Pogi.”

The anti-Napoles whistleblowers also connected with certainty Atty Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Gonzales – ex-Reyes, widely-acknowledged partner and chief of staff of JPE, and Ruby Tuason, a relative of the former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, to Senator Juan Ponce-Enrile.

Realizing, as with many of us observers, that Janet “Jenny” Lim-Napoles is a woman marked for death by her former clients and associates, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s final advice to her was very true, if not prophetic:  “Pag-isipan mo ha.  This is a friendly tip from a lawyer…  But I will give you this counsel:  Tell the truth before (sic) before the senators affected have you assassinated.  Sabihin mo na… dahil iyan ang ligtas mo.”

“Tell the truth before the senators affected have you assassinated.”

“Tell the truth before the senators affected have you assassinated.”

“Tell the truth before the senators affected have you assassinated.”

It is unlikely that Janet Lim-Napoles will escape paying the ultimate price for her misdeeds, and from her former clients and associates at that.  She holds TMI (Too Much Information) that could further destroy, indeed completely demolish, the already teetering lives of her former clients and associates.  But if she will be murdered/assassinated, she might as well drag everyone concerned with her to Hell.

(Personally, I am in total stitches over this ridiculous political comedy.  What schadenfreude as I watch these incorruptibly corrupt senators attempt to maintain their equanimity in the face of such truthful, shameful, shattering, life-changing, career-damning revelations.  Wonderful, really wonderful, absolutely wonderful.  I drool.)

Tough nut to crack, this Jenny.  She really knows how to run around the grill.

Good show, Jenny!!!  You go, gurl!!!    LOL

As the Filipino Everyman Juan de la Cruz could cuss crisply:  “PUTANG INA NINYONG LAHAT!!!”      LOLOLOL

Na-pulis si Napoles (Sweet & Sour Pork)

Do you honestly think that Mrs Janet “Jenny” Lim-Napoles will be convicted of all those charges?

IMHO, NO.  Because she knows TOO MUCH.  She has the frightful potential of being able to bring down the entire Philippine government from President Noynoy Aquino down to the mere barangay functionary.

About 5 years ago, or even more, Jenny Napoles was already the chic-of-the-week byword of property owners and speculators in posh Forbes Park, Makati city, where properties run to the hundreds of millions of pesos.  Residents like the Ls, Ms, Qs, Ss, & Ts, who not only had one, but many properties in South Forbes & North Forbes Park, took quiet notice of her:  “Who is this Jenny Napoles???  She’s obviously very rich…!!!”    At that time, she was one of the first megabuyers — way ahead of Manny Pacquiao — who plonked down unimaginable sums for properties in that impossibly expensive neighborhood.  At that time, Php 150 million was, more or less, the going price for +- 2,000 m2.  One resident remembered her paying up a whopping Php X00 million in cash for a big residential property.

Jenny Napoles replaced “Don” Pepito Mercado as the newest person-to-know in social Forbes Park circles, where venerable, old family wealth and long lineage were slowly but surely evaporating and giving way to the insurgent megafortunes of nouveaux riches from nowhere.  Social Forbes liked attending Pepito Mercado’s parties and enjoying his giveaways, like Mont Blanc “Meisterstuck” fountain pens.

At that time, a Forbes resident gushed:  “Everyone knows Jenny Napoles!  She’s filthy rich and she’s very nice!  She has investments all over the place!  She’s a really good businesswoman!”

“She made her big money dealing in arms & ammunition.”

They also knew her military origins and connections:  “She’s well-connected with Ping Lacson.  Her husband Jimmy & Ping are good friends in the military from way back.”

She was $$$ very rich, and she spread the money around.  Friends spoke about her largesse, her generosity, of her magnificent gifts.  Major items of Hermes, Chanel, Bulgari, Prada, etc   were par for the course.  There were parties where the giveaways for all the female guests were expensive signature bags.   Business contacts were impressed by her splendid gifts.  She did not hesitate to send an ailing friend to the hospital, specialist doctors, treatments, room, and all, everything on her.  Neither did she hesitate to have a dead friend embalmed or cremated, interred or inurned, burial plot or niche, everything charged to her.  Her largesse to those dear to her was “from womb to tomb.”  Among her many traits, Jenny Napoles was a master of the art of giving.

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By all means, the guilty should be charged and penalized accordingly.

But obvious to everyone — except, stupidly enough, to the Philippine government — is that Mrs Janet “Jenny” Lim-Napoles is only a supporting actress in this “pork barrel drama.”  In fact, she is only the sacrificial lamb, the “expendable one” who can be punished, because she isn’t “big enough” politically and financially.

She’s not “big enough” politically and financially.  Which brings us to the question:  Who are the ones BIG ENOUGH politically and financially to elude this “Pork Barrel” witchhunt?  I don’t even need to name them, because you all know who they are.  Same despicable names, same grotesque faces, same “sinverguenzas.”    This whole episode will become the Biblical “This too shall pass…” and they will get away scot-free, yet again.  Yet again.  Again and again.

But not forever.  For there is such a thing as justice in the end.  A justice so exact that it will hit right at the point where it hurts the most.  It’s called karma.  And it’s very real.  They will burn in their personal, bespoke, customized hell for sure.

(The Marcoses are supposed to have some USD $ 30 billion deposited in various secret accounts all over the world.  Undoubtedly, they have access to some of it, because their princely style of life continues to this day, undiminished.  But the fact is they can’t touch most of that purported USD $ 30 billion.  Their shyster bankers in Switzerland, Germany, UK, USA, Japan, Singapore, the Cayman islands, etc will simply not allow them to withdraw the precious capital from their banks.  No way, over their dead bankers’ bodies.  Then what is the use of all those $$$ billions if they can’t have them at their beck and call???  If that’s not “justice,” I don’t know what is.)

I have a different opinion of this fiasco.  While I am fully aware of the purported crimes of Mrs Janet “Jenny” Lim-Napoles, I daresay that I admire her, and in a sense, am even thankful to her.  It took her Simoun-like genius (remember the very rich jeweler antagonist in Rizal’s 2nd novel “El Filibusterismo”), her derring-do, her sheer guts and balls to pander to the insatiable greed of our politicos and it took her great abilities to unwittingly deal the lethal blows — I cannot say fatal, unfortunately — to the careers of our most corrupt politicos.  FINALLY.  It took the brilliant, daring misdeeds of Mrs Janet “Jenny” Lim-Napoles to bring the subterranean hoarding activities of the incorruptibly corrupt Filipino politico to the harsh sunlight for all the world to see.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

A lot of people want her dead.  Or disappeared without a trace.  Specially her former clients and associates, the very ones who benefited, and benefited greatly, from her business genius.  For their protection.  For good reasons, very good reasons.  In the case of Mrs Janet “Jenny” Lim-Napoles’ former clients and associates, there is sadly no honor among thieves.  To each his own now.  Oddly enough, the Filipino people, or Juan de la Cruz, don’t even figure in that equation.

If only poor Juan de la Cruz knows of all the chicanery that goes on in the highest government circles, the way they parcel things out among themselves with that accepted but errant sense of entitlement:  “Tayo tayo lang naman dito…”, he would overthrow this government right now.

The incredible problem with this “Pork Barrel fiasco” is that…   like it or not, practically EVERY TOP OFFICIAL IN GOVERNMENT is involved.

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Do you still harbor illusions about our Philippine government?  Call me a cynic but I don’t and I never have.  It’s never going to change, you know.

The Yellow Dream is so over.  I can’t believe it — being a staunch believer as a 19 year-old during EDSA 1986 — but it is.

To paraphrase Marie Antoinette:  “Let them eat Sweet & Sour Pork!”

The Culmination

Of course, it will never happen again (not in that way, at least), but oh, the memories…  the memories!!!

As dozens and dozens of us jocose, loquacious, costumed (not to mention bejeweled) guests were walking from the cafe pavilion towards the big pavilion in the moonlight, by the river, lit by torches, I told myself:  “This is one of the magical evenings of your life, Toto, savor it for all its worth…”  And indeed, it was magical:  under the moonlight and the fiery torches, one could still see the sea of shimmering silks of brilliant colors, embroidery, appliquees, sequins, and the glittering gems, both genuine and faux, of this happy and privileged troupe come to honor their good friend and to enjoy the lavish feast of the senses he had laid out for them.

There was something in the air that evening:  some kind of indefinable happiness, joy, and insouciance which permeated everyone and everything.  Yes, the insouciance was infectious.  We were all carefree that evening, free from all problems and inhibitions, merriment was the order of the night.  For that one moonlit evening, Ado’s “1,000 most intimate friends” were not their usual selves:  NOT taipans, taitais, dons, donas, big businessmen, big businesswomen, real estate developers, shipping titans, logistics moguls, ambassadors, diplomats, senators, congressmen, mayors, technocrats, bankers, financiers, architects, jewellers, interior designers, fashion designers, antique dealers, chefs, photographers, writers, gourmets, manufacturers, entrepreneurs, etc..  All were just well-wishing party guests out for a great time.  We were laughing at ourselves, amazed at how we managed to dress in those splendid, even outlandish costumes.  The ladies mock-blamed Ado:  “My goodness!  Only Ado can get us to do these crazy things!” while adjusting their headdresses, checking their jewelry — earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings, & anklets, and inspecting their shoes.  The gentlemen preened like peacocks, pleased with their handsome appearances and opulent garb, and chuckled among themselves.

Oh yes, in Manila, there are parties and there are parties.  But even heedless Php millions spent, a top hotel ballroom in its entirety, Php 10,000/pax dinners, endless French grand cru wines and champagne, top live bands, an AAA guest list clad in Brioni and Chanel with suitably well-dressed yayas carrying their “it bags,” shod in G.J. Cleverley & Blahniks, and arriving in the latest Benzes & Bimmers, top party planners, Crane invitations, gold and diamond jewelry and Cristal Baccarat giveaways, do not necessarily a great/fantastic party make.  I have observed that firsthand.  In fact, I’ve witnessed, shellshocked, several such parties fall flat for some really unusual and weird reasons.  But Ado Escudero’s 80th bash,  for all its amusing, charming, and bewildering hiccups, had that all-too-elusive MAGICAL SPARK which will forever distinguish it as one of the greatest fetes every held in the Philippines.

And it was not an entirely A-List party, not at all.  Ado himself was very clear about that from the start and was the first to declare it candidly.  He knew it would not sit well with the several society/sassiety rags covering his bash — the usual spiel “Who are all these people???!!!” — but he didn’t care.  He wanted his many, many friends, a thousand of them to be specific, at his 80th milestone celebration, regardless of economic and social stature, indeed all sublevels of class A, B, & C were present, although of course there were many of Ado’s truly affluent peers present.  Truly, he is au courante:  politically correct and in tune with the times.  It is also why his party, despite the seeming opulence and lavishness of it all, has not merited the usual media brickbats of conspicuous consumption and social insensitivity from socialist/leftist critics and commentators.  Bal populaire it certainly was not, but yes, Juan & Juana de la Cruz, a great many of them, were present at their Ka Ado Escudero’s grand 80th celebration, and they enjoyed it to the same degree — got all dressed up, ate a lot, danced merrily, and had a whale of a time — like everybody else.

I belonged to the Morocco contingent of heiress Maria Victoria “Marivic” Madrigal Vazquez (a granddaughter of Vicente Madrigal, one of the Philippines’ richest men of all time), so I had to line up with them.  Her merry troupe included socialite Patty Johnson-Jalbuena, Lipa City Colleges owner and VP Glecy Mojares, Hermes & Bulgari Manila exec Nympha Javier-Valencia, senior journalist Ethel Soliven-Timbol, designer Raul Luancing, and several others.  My dear friend, top costume designer Eric Pineda, dressed fantastically as Jadis, the Ice Witch from Narnia, complete with LED lights, joined the troupe.  I was dressed by Eric Pineda and bejeweled by top couture jewelry designer Gerry Sunga, another dear friend, as “Suleiman the Magnificent,” Emperor of the Ottoman empire (Turkish actually, but then everybody was a delightful mishmash anyway).  It was a splendid costume which drew rave reviews from practically everyone present.  Before the Morocco contingent was the Bali one with heritage advocate Cora Relova and thespian Tony Marino;  after Morocco was the Hawaii contingent with leading publisher Gus Vibal and his friends.

“Yaya!  Where’s my mirror?”

“You look faaabulous, darling!”

“I’m hungry…  I’ll eat anything…  Anything!”

“You eat one bite and your costume will pop open!”

“Ferdie (driver), go to the car and get my hopia!”

“Ha ha ha!  While you were having your make-up done earlier, Bobby & I went back here and had cocktails.  We’re OK!”

“You know, I already gained weight since I had my costume made!  The waist is tight!  Argh!”

“What do you expect?  You keep on eating out!”

“I couldn’t decide on what sari to wear… and what jewelry to wear…  pink diamonds with the blue sari, or blue sapphires with the pink sari?  yellow diamonds with the green, or emeralds with the red?  Or rubies?  I feel underdressed…  You all look so fantastic!”

“I don’t know about you but I’m wearing all fake!  I don’t care if anything falls while I’m drunk!”

“Mrs. Marcos is here!”

“Is Eden Volante with her?”

“Ay!  My heels!”

“I told you to wear your wedgies, but you wouldn’t listen.”

“Oh dear, my make-up’s already running… help me to retouch!”

“Mygawd!  You have the whole Rustan’s beauty section in your bag!”

“Oh no, this bag goes after the retouch, I don’t want to have to lug it around.  Yaya!  Carry this bag after I finish, OK?  And be careful!”

“Hi Gorgeous Guy!  How about dancing with me tonight?”

“How about something more than just dancing tonight, Gorgeous Girl?!”

“What about me, Gorgeous Guy???  I’m Gorgeous Gay!!!”

“Well, OK, you too…”

LOLOLOL

We all stood on the wooden bridge leading to the big pavilion awaiting our turn to be presented when fireworks announced the forthcoming arrival from upstream of Ado in his 2-storey pagoda escorted by other boats with pyrotechnics and performers.  It was a sight to be remembered by his guests for all time…

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It was Conrado “Ado” Escudero’s 80th birthday and he finally held his long-promised, and equally long-awaited Oriental ball, “The Carnival of the Four Continents.”  It was a celebration he had anticipated since he was 70, 10 years ago…

It was the culmination, the highest point of Ado Escudero’s very giving and very social life.  But certainly not the end.

Far from it.

*unfinished*

Pyongyang Style!

Are we all finally headed toward nuclear annihilation?  *Yawn*

Good thing I mastered the dance steps of Psy’s “Gangnam Style.”  Hahahah.

Saging na Sabah ( Sabah Banana )

Need I say more?

While I am inclined to agree with the moderate views of a Malaysian professor at the NUS National University of Singapore whose article was posted by my dear friend, top historian Ambeth Ocampo in his Facebook page, there are many side stories to this issue which are very interesting…

Actually, I was with a group of very well-informed, hotshot lawyers and this is what they had to say…

“After Ferdinand Marcos’ botched plan to retake Sabah in 196_, the Malaysians retaliated by training the Muslim Filipinos as the MNLF, the Moro National Liberation Front. That way, the Filipinos would be busy with their own Islamic insurgency rather than think of retaking Sabah from Malaysia. Think of what immense trouble that was to all of us Filipinos! But talk of things going full circle: the reason why the Kiram Royal Army knew where to position themselves well in Sabah during the attacks was that they were trained there… and how!”

“It was the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration and the Malaysians who decided to ‘recognize’ Jamalul Kiram as the ‘rightful’ Sultan of Sulu instead of the most eligible contender in the Kiram clan, who is a medical doctor. That was because Jamalul Kiram struck them as the most cooperative and the least likely to make trouble; he is not as outspoken as the other contenders. Never in their wildest dreams did they think he could pull off an audacious act like that! On the other hand, that medical doctor, who was the most eligibile contender as Sultan of Sulu, wants the outright secession of Sulu from the Philippines.”

More later…

KunSABAHgay…

Asunder

We all think “telenovela” plots are way out, whether they are Filipino, Korean,  Mexican, whathaveyou…

But indeed, Truth is stranger than Fiction.

The following story is happening to friends of mine.  Although affluent, they are not “in society.”  But what is happening has jarred me enough to want to share it with you…

Jake and Faith have been married for 15 years and seem like the perfect couple:  both goodlooking, intelligent, hardworking, prosperous, and visibly in love.  Jake is a vice-president in a multinational corporation and has several businesses of his own.  Faith is a born entrepreneur, a hardworking businesswoman who imports exclusive boutique beauty products and other luxury items from Europe and from the USA.  They have no children.  After several tests, it was determined by the doctors that it was Faith who had the fertility problem.

Jake and Faith were unfazed, and since they had the resources, went to every single fertility doctor they could find.  After exhausting their list in Manila, they proceeded to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Bangkok, San Francisco, and New York.  None of the doctors could get Faith pregnant.

Unknown to Faith, Jake had become despondent and was losing faith in himself.  He desperately wanted to have children, not just one, but several.  For Jake, adoption of someone else’s child was totally out of the question.

About a year ago, on a business trip down south, Jake found himself visiting Bernie, his former flame.  Bernie is from a rich political clan, the daughter of an influential, longtime politico.  Jake had bowed out of her life years ago when he was a nobody careerwise and could not afford Bernie’s affluent style of life.  Unknown to Faith in Manila, Jake’s visits down south to Bernie became more frequent.  Before Jake and Bernie could realize what was happening, Bernie became pregnant.  Not wanting a scandal to blow up, her parents sent her to the USA to give birth there.  

Bernie gave birth to a bouncing baby boy.  Jake was delirious with happiness.  Bernie’s parents were not happy about her illicit relationship with Jake, not only because she was a mistress, but they felt that he was not rich enough, influential enough, and important enough for them, although they were very happy about their new grandson, a new heir to their political dynasty!  Bernie’s father sat Jake down and pointedly told him that the baby boy would carry their surname instead of Jake’s for as long as Jake could not marry Bernie and make an honorable woman out of her.  He stated in the strongest terms that Jake should leave his wife Faith and marry their daughter Bernie.

Bernie, for her part, also told Jake in the strongest terms that he should marry her, that he should have his marriage to Faith annulled ASAP since they could not have children anyway.

All that time, Jake carried on with his loving wife Faith back in Manila as if nothing was happening…

Three months after the birth of his son with Bernie, and ready to be expelled from their marriage and their home, Jake finally mustered the courage to tell the truth to Faith, expecting the worst.

But Faith, kind and understanding woman that she is, did not go into a rage.  Calmly, she told Jake that she was very hurt, but that she completely understood his situation.  How could he live without children of his own knowing full well that he was a healthy man capable of producing them?  Faith assured Jake that she was ready to live their life with his son from Bernie.  However, Jake did not tell Faith that Bernie and her family are pressuring him to leave her and marry Bernie instead.

Where do they go from there???!!!

I know Jake and Faith well.  Faith is a wonderful woman whose only fault is that she cannot have a child.  I can only conjecture what prompted Jake to return to Bernie and…

If this isn’t an unraveling “telenovela,” I don’t know what is…

Comedy relief: Instagone!

Because her US-based nephew was in town for 2 weeks for his niece’s beach wedding in Boracay island, Parsimonious Auntie had invited her nephews and nieces for lunch ( siomai (( from “Forbes” notwithstanding )), what else???!!! ) at her Grey Gardens-style home in gated Makati ( remember the movie “Grey Gardens” from 2009 starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange? ).  One could hardly move with the palimpsest of possessions, of great worth and the worthless, since PA at her advanced age could no longer make distinctions ( not that she ever did ).  There were beautiful paintings ( Fernando Amorsolo magsasakas & lavanderas, Anita Magsaysay-Ho tinderas & chismosas, Romeo Enriquez portraits of the family trolls ), furniture ( enough original Batangas mesas altar to make the top collectors swoon ), and objects ( silver “paliteras” toothpick holders and “buyeras” betel nut & cigar trays from several roots of the tree, Ch’ing dynasty rose, vert, & jaune vases, etc. ), juxtaposed with PA’s latest finds from the 168 mall in Divisoria, “Wellmanson”s” & “Sophie’s” in Quiapo, & the Greenhills “Tiangge,” but they were all coated with what seemed like a year of dust, despite the presence of several household help, who had once complained to their mistress that she had too many things for them to clean, to which she replied matter-of-factly:  “Mayaman ako.  Kaya marami akong gamit.  Wala tayong magagawa tungkol do’n.”  ( “I’m rich.  That’s why I have so many things.  There’s nothing we can do about that.” )

The house looked frozen in time…  A beautiful niece, married to a superrich Asian businessman, was fascinated with already-“antique” perfume bottles ( perfume, not EDT eau de toilette ) in a vitrine in Parsimonious Auntie’s master bedroom, the lot of them from the 1950s, mostly from PA’s mother-in-law, Lola Bruja Mahjongera.  What fascinated her the most were 2 bottles, 1 big and 1 small, sporting capes and headdresses.  She had seen them in that cabinet since she was a small girl in the late 1950s.         

The nephews and nieces ( all adults, very well-off, with their own families ) snickered among themselves when they came upon their aunt’s big framed family photo from the late 1970s by a society photographer hanging in the stairwell.  Something was different in the family pic… 

Parsimonious Auntie had roundly cut out her former daughter-in-law’s face and replaced it with the one of the new daughter-in-law, whose photo however, was of a different proportion ( not to mention a different era ) to the former daughter-in-law’s body, making her look like an alien…  It looked “beyond ridiculous.”

Observations between the cousins were exchanged in hushed tones…

“Cutting ***** off and putting ***** like that…  so funny!”  observed a senior nephew. 

“Why didn’t she have that done professionally?  It looks awful!”  asked a kind niece.

“Ssshhh…  She’s proud that she did it herself!  DIY!”  an acerb niece warned.

“Hah???  She did it herself???!!!”  they all asked, incredulous.

“Do you honestly think she’ll pay for Adobe Photoshop services by a pro???!!!” the acerb niece retorted.  They all kept quiet.     

A witty techie nephew pointed at the family photo and quipped the best line:  “BUT HEY…  THAT’S THE ORIGINAL ‘CUT & PASTE’ !!!”

( “Best Face” by Android??? )

Bwahahahahah!!!   😀   😀   😀

“Bagnetized”: 3 days in Ilocos Norte

As with most things, it started with a call on the cellphone… from my dear friend Cindy R-V…

“Would you like to come with us to Laoag for 3 days?  Sept 10 – 12, Monday to Wednesday.”

“Can I get back to you, Cindy?  I have several things to check first…”

I studied my schedules and figured out ways to reconfigure everything just so I could “escape” with my friends to Laoag, Ilocos Norte.

“OK.  I can go.”

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That late Monday afternoon, we all found ourselves at the “Cafe France” at the Centennial Terminal:  Cindy R-V, Naynay V, Raqui R-L, Evelyn H-R, and Pinky R.  Tata P sat with us while she waited for her flight to Bacolod.

The flight to Laoag on PR 228 was a pleasant and quick 55 minutes.  At the airport lounge, we were greeted by Imee’s staff who hung pretty red ribbons with innovative shell and coconut designs on us as a welcome.  We were whisked to a Coaster which took us in 20 minutes to our designated hotel, the “Plaza del Norte” in Paoay.

I did not expect much by way of accommodations because I had been visiting Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte on and off for the past 20 years and I was content with a clean room and a clean and functioning bathroom, no matter how basic ( of course that rule did not hold at the upscale Fort Ilocandia hotel ).  What mattered to me was that I was with good friends and that I would certainly have a wonderful time.

The “Plaza del Norte” hotel, all of 3 years old, was a completely pleasant surprise:  all white, clean, neat, spacious, and sprawling.  It had been a project of Bonget’s when he was governor of the province.  It certainly was of a new generation of hotels in Ilocandia.  My room, 105-B, overlooking the courtyard and swimming pool, was good-sized, clean, neat, and uncluttered, with a clean and well-planned bathroom.  I was happy with my accommodations, given my various interesting experiences with hotels in Ilocandia.  I knew I was in for a really good time.

Dinnertime was at the hotel’s “Cafe Ayuyang” and everybody opted for the all-you-can-eat Mongolian Grill ( although all of us went once and that was it ).  It wasn’t half bad for the limitless seafood and meats you could pile on, which were then cooked on a grill in the patio outside.  What I found interesting was that soumak ( a Persian spice which tastes mildly of Chinese “kiamoy” ) and cumin were included in the garnishes;  I put generous amounts knowing full well I would probably smell “Arabo” the next day ( well, periodic sprays of Annick Goutal’s “Eau d’Hadrien” took good care of that! ).  Kapampangan that I was, I had to make additional orders of “Bagnet” & “Kalderetang Kambing.”  The “Bagnet” was very well done and was enjoyed by everyone at the table.

We were already at the table when the other guests arrived.  Dulce R arrived, and so did Fe R-G.  They had driven up from Manila and it had taken them 9 hours.  Betsy & Co. would be arriving the next day for the D-Day ceremonies.    

( Cindy, her daughter Naynay, Cindy’s sister Raqui, Cindy’s sister-in-law Evelyn, Evelyn’s daughter Pinky are from the Miguel Romualdez line;  Cindy is his granddaughter.   Dulce is from the Vicente Orestes Romualdez line; she is his granddaughter by his first wife Juanita Acereda.  Daniel Romualdez Sr. of Pandacan, Manila and Trinidad Crisostomo Lopez of Leyte (( originally of Basey, Samar )) had 3 sons:  Norberto, Miguel, & Vicente Orestes ). 

( Fe Roa-Gimenez headed the personal assistants of Mrs. Marcos during the Malacanang years. )

After what seemed to be a long after-dinner chat with the R cousins, we retired to our rooms at 10:00 p.m..  I fell asleep quickly because I had not slept adequately the previous night.  We would also have to leave the hotel at 8:30 a.m. the next day for the 95th birth anniversary mass for the late President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos ( born 11 September 1917 ) at 9:00 a.m. at the old Batac parish church.

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I was late for the departure time of 8:30 a.m.!  I was late!

Imee’s efficient staff briefed us on the activities for the day.  We were assigned a “Grandia” van driven by a kind Manong Erwin, who worked for the mayor of Currimao town as well as the provincial governor’s office.  We finally left the hotel at 8:32 a.m..  According to Manong Erwin, Batac town was only 20 minutes away.  It was a wonderful sunny day and we drove through picturesque Paoay… we passed by an elegant Mediterranean-style villa by the lake and were told that it was Rudy Farinas’, further on was the road that led to the storied Ferdinand Marcos resthouse “Malacanang ti Amianan.”  We passed Paoay town proper, by the famous “earthquake baroque” church, and I noted that the town plaza had been improved from years ago ( there was a time when the tennis court at the back of the church was the major development ).  We were disappointed to hear that the “Herencia” restaurant, famous for its delish and cosmo “pinakbet” and “bagnet” pizzas ( think of Manang Biday meets Alice Waters ), had relocated.    

We were yacking about “those days” and before we knew it, we were already in Batac town.  Probably because the van had an identifying mark or something, the police and the barangay tanods waved us to the “VIP entrance.”  Make no mistake about it:  It was Marcos town and the profound affection and great esteem accorded to the late President Ferdinand Marcos was not only visible but palpable even to non-Ilocanos like us.  We drove into the Batac church patio, filled with various contingents waving flags and banners awaiting the arrival of the Marcos family, the de facto royal family of Ilocandia.  We alighted from the van and entered the church, which was already nearly full with various contingents as well — men, women, youth.  Cindy led us to a vacant pew in the middle of the church when an announcement was made that the first 5 pews were reserved for the guests of the Marcos family; the people occupying them immediately stood up and transferred.  We took the 5th pew on the left side — Cindy by the aisle and me by the other end.  In front of the first pew were the individual pews reserved for the Marcos family.  A lady in black and white whom no one recognized sat at one of the individual pews.

As I was wont to do, I took in the church interiors while waiting for the ceremonies to start.  Austere, Ilocano austere.  I observed that the Batac church did not yet have “Imee’s touch,” nor “Ma’am’s touch,” nor the faultlessly elegant “Irene’s touch.”  However, I noted a beautiful, elegant lifesize statue of the “Immaculate Conception” in the center niche of the main reredo;  it seemed to be the work of one of the famous Quiapo ateliers prewar.  On the right side ( the Epistle side ), there was an interesting, overpainted antique statue of “La Virgen con Nino Jesus” on a niche, possibly early 1800s or even mid-1700s.  I was seriously studying what was before me when the other live Virgin, the Madonna of Malacanang herself, finally appeared…

A growing hubbub at the church entrance signaled that The Eternally Beautiful One, the former First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos, had finally arrived.  She glided up the aisle, resplendent in a deep red silk terno and her signature pompadour, amidst the characteristic flurry of security men, assistants, politicians, and media — just like the “old days.”  Whatever one thought of her, the lady simply had an amazingly potent and lasting megawatt star power.  The excited congregation clicked their cellphones endlessly.  As she neared our pew, the group stood up to greet their “Auntie Meldy.”  She was happy to see her relatives and associates and “beso-beso ed” one by one.  When it was my turn, she paused momentarily and gasped:  “Ay, anak ni Poling!  Kamukhang-kamukha!” ( “Poling” was Froilan Zialcita Romualdez, her first cousin, son of Manila mayor Miguel Romualdez )

The group laughed.  “Ma’am, hindi anak ni Poling ‘yan.  Si Toto Gonzalez iyan, kaibigan natin.”  they explained.

“Pero mukha kang Romualdez!”  she insisted.  “Toto Gonzalez!  Ikaw nga!  Bakit hindi ka na bumisita sa akin?  Ang saya ng kuwentuhan natin…”  I just smiled and nodded.  ( Long ago, Mandoy’s daughter Eliza told me that her Auntie Meldy enjoyed my company, intrigued as she was by my knowledge of the Manila families, the establishment, the Marcos circle, and also of the New York, London, & Paris social sets, the top jewelers, etc.  — in short, my knowledge of her world. )       

She sat down at the end of our pew and exchanged more pleasantries, unmindful of the scheduled ceremonies.  At the same time, a steady stream of people queued up to greet her.  Natural charmer that she was, she was unfailingly gracious to all.

Signaled by Atty. Eden Volante, Mrs. Marcos stood up from our pew to take her place in the individual pews in front.  She looked askance and gestured towards the lady in black and white ( whom no one recognized ) who continued to sit on one of the pews, seemingly oblivious to Mrs. Marcos’ arrival:  “Sino siya???” Mrs. Marcos asked.  Later during the mass, we all found out to our comic relief that the lady was none other than the lector.  Hahahah.    

After some time, Bonget ( Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. ) and Lisa ( Atty. Lisa Cacho Araneta-Marcos ) arrived with their security detail.      

The sprightly octogenarian Fortuna Edralin Marcos-Barba, the last surviving sibling of President Marcos, arrived, wearing a cheery printed red-and-white dress.  Mrs. Marcos greeted her affectionately with “beso-beso.”

Last to arrive was “Gov” Imee ( Maria Imelda Marcos ), looking morning fresh in white “abel” ( Ilocano woven cotton ).  No, Irene ( Irene Marcos-Araneta ) was not present.

*unfinished*

Birkinmania: The Hermes Birkins of Manila

Of course, it’s tacky to ask one’s freespending socialite friends, whether they are genuine establishment, fabulously nouveau riche, or the irrepressible wannabes, “How many Birkins do you have?” but one might as well ask as there seems to be a raging contest going on in walk-in closets and in chichi lunches and teas…

And I am NOT talking about the AAAs and the First Class fakes available at every “tiangge”…

“I only have 6.  But my daughter has 10.”

“She has assiduously collected 8.   She keeps them by her bedside to watch over them.”  ( Probably the only things she owns? )

“She has quite a number of them:  1 from Taipan I’s son, 1 from Taipan II’s son , 1 from Taipan III’s lesbian daughter, 1 from Senator IV, 1 from Senator V, 1 from Congressman VI, 1 from Congressman VII, 1 from Mayor VIII, 1 from Mayor IX, et. al..  She has more than 12?”

“I have 18.  And I want more…!!!”

“She freaked out when the ‘yaya’ carrying her Birkin was sandwiched between the elevator doors at Pacific Plaza towers.  She nearly died!!!  Well, the pobrecita ‘yaya’ was fired ASAP.”

“She has some 2 dozen Hermes Birkins among hundreds of  really nice bags in her 300 m2 walk-in closet in Forbes Park.  But she stopped using the Bs when JP and then DP started using them.  Hahahah!  Just wait until they move into the ‘hood!”  

“You should have seen her when her hubby’s champion golden retriever dragged her fuchsia pink Birkin through the dining room to the living room to the ‘lanai’ and made the bag his lunch.  She cried for days and days over her tattered bag!!!  It was as bad as when their big Cristal Baccarat chandelier in the dining room fell just before a dinner party years ago.  Maybe there’s something wrong with the feng shui of their house… ”  

“That’s her retinue:  There’s the ‘yaya’ with the smartphone, the ‘yaya’ with the Birkin, the ‘yaya’ with the child, the ‘yaya’ with the child’s bag, the gay ‘alalay,’ the bodyguard with the big umbrella, the bodyguard with the small umbrella, and the 2 drivers ( of 8 ), one for the day and one for the night.  Nice life.”

A taipan’s beautiful wife said:  “Toto, just to let you know that I am sick and tired of seeing women parading their Birkin for everyone to see, so I have been using mine as a gym bag to the horror of friends who love to show theirs off. Mine is stuffed with a water bottle (sometimes wet) and a towel and some snacks. Doesn’t that remind you of IRM who would parade her diamonds on her head (tiara) when Elizabeth Taylor in the same event wore hers underneath her ball gown, on her ankles, apparently the headlines the next day say:  ‘ The jewelry that Imelda wore on her head, Elizabeth Taylor wore on her feet.’ Not sure how accurate the story is though, but was widely gossiped about then….Hahaha… And just so you know, mine are real!!! Even if I shop at 168, I also shop at Hermes in PARIS!”

“Of course, I’m not going to pay attention to my bags, whatever they are.  What am I, nouveau riche???”  ( She isn’t, but megarich just the same. )

“Puh-leeze!!!  None of that stuff for me!!!  Why would I want to look like them ( a litany of “new tacky names” )???  Yes, we had them when nobody did but now…  EEEeeewww!!!  I’m happy with the darling little bags I pick up in places not known to THOSE people, thank you.”

“Hermes Birkins ( and Kellys ) are simply beautiful bags.  They come in such pretty colors, and they’re so well-made, like a genuine Paris couture gown!  They are the only reasons why I buy one every now and then.  The fact that they cost more shouldn’t be an issue or a factor.  If you like them, that is enough justification to purchase.”  reflected a doyenne of establishment society. 

“This is a very beautiful bag,” explained a rich, genuinely establishment society magazine editrix to her wide-eyed staff, “look at the quality of the leather, the fittings.   Observe how neatly and precisely it’s sewn together, you can tell that so much expert effort was expended to create it.  I want you to look at it, smell it, feel it.  In the future, girls, should you have the requisite resources, you should invest in bags of high quality like this Hermes Birkin.”        

The last word came from a ranking Frenchwoman who, with great curiosity and the requisite Gallic snobbery, asked her Filipino Spanish mestizo friend:  “I was in Manila and I observed that Filipina women use their Birkins in the evenings…  Don’t they know it’s a day bag?”

To which the diplomatic friend helplessly and haplessly replied:  The Philippines is a tropical country.  It’s warm.  There’s really no distinction between day and evening wear.”

“Palusot”!!!  ( Lame excuse!!! )   😛   😛   😛

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